You get more done when you work less

According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in an excerpt from his book “REST: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

For all the attention the Berlin conservatory study has received, this part of the top students’ experiences—their sleep patterns, their attention to leisure, their cultivation of deliberate rest as a necessary complement of demanding, deliberate practice—goes unmentioned. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell focuses on the number of hours exceptional performers practice and says nothing about the fact that those students also slept an hour more, on average, than their less-accomplished peers, or that they took naps and long breaks.

This is not to say that Gladwell misread Ericsson’s study; he just glossed over that part. And he has lots of company. Everybody speed-reads through the discussion of sleep and leisure and argues about the 10,000 hours.

This illustrates a blind spot that scientists, scholars, and almost all of us share: a tendency to focus on focused work, to assume that the road to greater creativity is paved by life hacks, propped up by eccentric habits, or smoothed by Adderall or LSD. Those who research world-class performance focus only on what students do in the gym or track or practice room. Everybody focuses on the most obvious, measurable forms of work and tries to make those more effective and more productive. They don’t ask whether there are other ways to improve performance, and improve your life.

This is how we’ve come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that’s wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.

“I work,” Parfit replied with a smile, “on what matters.”

[Following up to “The Priorities of Beethoven“.] According to Jeff McMahan in his remembrance of Derek Parfit.

When the ventilator tube was removed and he could again speak, he immediately began to discuss with me the ideas and arguments on which he had been working when I had to rush him to the emergency room. […] The next day […] the graduate student whose thesis Parfit was scheduled to examine, came for a visit, during which Parfit delightedly insisted on discussing the thesis with him for several hours. A nurse, having noticed how many visitors Parfit had had, exclaimed, “Jesus Christ had only 12 disciples – but look at you! You’re clearly a very important man. What do you do?” “I work,” Parfit replied with a smile, “on what matters.”


The one exception to his monomaniacal commitment to his philosophy was his architectural photography, samples of which appear on the covers of his four books. But he gave that up many years ago when he came to fear that he might not live long enough to complete his remaining work in philosophy.

There are many anecdotes about the ways in which Parfit simplified his life to take as little time as possible away from his work. He ate only twice a day, with almost no variation in what he had at each meal. He ate cold food only, mostly fruits and vegetables without any preparation. Even when he could have had freshly ground coffee with only a minute’s additional preparation, he drank instant coffee, often with water straight from the tap. He sometimes kept a book open on the chest-of-drawers so that he could read while putting on his socks. His speed in reading was phenomenal, in part because his power of concentration was prodigious. Wanting to preserve his mental and physical capacities, he took an hour every evening during his last decade to get vigorous exercise on a stationary bicycle, but never without reading philosophy (or occasionally physics) while furiously pedalling.

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

According to Dean Bokhari’s summary of the book “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Start with “The Focusing Question.”

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

You’ll want to write that down… because the whole entire book is based around that single question, and the power of organizing every area of your life around ONE Thing (per area).

The Domino Effect

The key to success is figuring out your ONE most important thing in your business/career/life over the long-run. Think of this as your “someday” goal.  Once you’ve figured that out, you need to identify how many dominoes you need to line up – and then knock down – in order to achieve it. Simple right? … actually, yeah. It is. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek”: The day Martin Luther King was punched twice by a Nazi

Brad Pierce's Blog

According to Ron Rosenbaum interviewing MLK biographer Taylor Branch about his “battle to prevent Dr. King’s profoundly considered theory of nonviolence from being relegated to history, and not recognized for its relevance to the issues America and the world faces today”

King’s practice, Branch says, was complex and radical and has been often misunderstood. Some of his closest supporters had their doubts about King’s own commitment to nonviolence—whether it was “personal” or just an abstraction for him.

During a meeting of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a man rose up from the audience, leapt onto the stage and smashed King in the face. Punched him hard. And then punched him again.

After the first punch, Branch recounts, King just dropped his hands and stood there, allowed the assailant (who turned out to be a member of the American Nazi Party) to punch him again. And when King’s associates tried…

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New morals, new principles, compromised beyond repair

Condensed from Milton Mayer’s They thought they were free; the Germans, 1933-45 (U. of Chicago Press, 1955). The following comments are attributed to a German philologist (pp. 166-172).

It took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath.

The whole process was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your `little men’; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about, but kept us so busy with continuous changes and `crises’ and so fascinated by the machinations of the `national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.

To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it, unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, `regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these `little measures’ that no `patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.

How is this to be avoided? Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims `Resist the beginnings’ and `Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist the beginnings, and how is this to be done?

Your `little men’ were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders.

One doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to `go out of your way to make trouble.’ And it is not just fear that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets `everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, `It’s not so bad’ or `You’re seeing things’ or `You’re an alarmist.’

And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. On the one hand, your enemies intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, people who have always thought as you have.

In small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to – to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait.

But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest … But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

And one day, too late, your principles all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy saying `Jew swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you were born in – your nation, your people – is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

Life has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father could not have imagined.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.


The best-performing coders have larger, quieter, more private workspaces

According to David Walker on February 25, 2001 reviewing DeMarco and Lister’s Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

Peopleware says this: give smart people physical space, intellectual responsibility and strategic direction. DeMarco and Lister advocate private offices and windows. They advocate creating teams with aligned goals and limited non-team work. They advocate managers finding good staff and putting their fate in the hands of those staff. The manager’s function, they write, is not to make people work but to make it possible for people to work.

Why is Peopleware so important to Microsoft and a handful of other successful companies? Why does it inspire such intense devotion amongst the elite group of people who think about software project management for a living? […] Peopleware’s persuasiveness comes from its numbers – from its simple, cold, numerical demonstration that improving programmers’ environments will make them more productive.
The numbers in Peopleware come from DeMarco and Lister’s Coding War Games, a series of competitions to complete given coding and testing tasks in minimal time and with minimal defects. The Games have consistently confirmed various known facts of the software game. For instance, the best coders outperform the ten-to-one, but their pay seems only weakly linked to their performance. But DeMarco and Lister also found that the best-performing coders had larger, quieter, more private workspaces. It is for this one empirical finding that Peopleware is best known.

(As an aside, it’s worth knowing that DeMarco and Lister tried to track down the research showing that open-plan offices make people more productive. It didn’t exist. Cubicle makers just kept saying it, without evidence – a technique Peopleware describes as “proof by repeated assertion”.)

Around their Coding Wars data, DeMarco and Lister assembled a theory: that managers should help programmers, designers, writers and other brainworkers to reach a state that psychologists call “flow” – an almost meditative condition where people can achieve important leaps towards solving complex problems. It’s the state where you start work, look up, and notice that three hours have passed. But it takes time – perhaps fifteen minutes on average – to get into this state. And DeMarco and Lister that today’s typical noisy, cubicled, Dilbertesque office rarely allows people 15 minutes of uninterrupted work. In other words, the world is full of places where a highly-paid and dedicated programmer or creative artist can spend a full day without ever getting any hard-core work [done]. Put another way, the world is full of cheap opportunities for people to make their co-workers more productive, just by building their offices a bit smarter.